Full Text

Chapter Thirty-Three. Bills of rights and the first ten amendments to the Constitution

Robert A. Rutland


Subject History, Law

Place Northern America » United States of America

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1700-1799

Key-Topics American War of Independence

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405116749.2003.00036.x


Extract

A MONG the many ironies created by the American Revolution was the colonists' insistence that they must fight the mother country in order to preserve their birthrights to English liberty under the law. Five generations of American-born subjects had lived on the Atlantic seaboard (between Canada and Florida) and grown accustomed to exercising certain civil liberties when the break with Great Britain occurred. Proud emigrants from England spoke of their rights as Englishmen when they passed the Massachusetts Body of Liberties in 1641, giving solid form to their notions of a rule of law first embodied in the Magna Carta. Meanwhile, colonial charters in Maryland, Carolina, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey from 1639 onwards had encouraged English-American subjects to expect that the common law and certain personal rights were part of their heritage. These rights were sometimes called “natural,” and in everyday practice they involved guarantees for jury trials, the rights of accused persons, and freedom of conscience, and provisions for peaceable assemblies, petitions to law-making bodies, and an exuberant (if often unbridled) press. The “not guilty” verdict that freed John Peter Zenger from a New York jail in 1735, after he was accused of printing sedition in his newspaper, was more than a legal landmark. Zenger's release indicated the unmistakable direction in which Americans were moving. ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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